From "The Fantastic Imagination" by George Macdonald (1824-1905), author of The Princess and Curdie, At the Back of the North Wind, The Light Princess, etc., discussing the nature and value of fairy tales and fantasy:
"A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, [for example], is so far from being a work of art that it needs This is a horse written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it does not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.
"But indeed, your children are not likely to trouble you about meaning. They will find what they are capable of finding, and more would be too much. For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.
"A fairy tale is not an allegory. There may be allegory in it, but it is not an allegory. He must be an artist indeed who can, in any mode, produce a strict allegory that is not a weariness of the spirit. An allegory must be Mastery or Moorditch. A fairy tale, like a butterfly or a bee, helps itself at all sides, sips at every flower, and spoils not one.
"The true fairy tale, to my mind, is like the sonata. We all know that a sonata means something; and where there is the faculty of talking with suitable vagueness, and choosing metaphor sufficiently loose, mind may approach mind, in the interpretation of a sonata, with a more or less contenting conciousness of sympathy. But if two or three men sat down to write each what the sonata meant to him, what approximation to a definite idea would be the result? Little enough -- and that little more than needful."
" A fairy tale, a sonata, a gathering storm, a limitless night, seizes you and sweeps you away: do you begin at once to wrestle with it and ask whence its power over you, wither it is carrying you? The law of each is in the mind of its composer; that law makes one man feel this way, another man feel that way. To one the sonata is a world of odour and beauty, to another of soothing only and sweetness. To one the cloudy rendezvous is a wild dance, with a terror at its heart; to another a majestic march of heavenly hosts, with Truth in their center pointing their course, but as yet restraining her voice. The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.
"I will go farther -- The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is -- not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things through for himself. The best Nature does for us is to work in us such moods in which thoughts of high import arise. Does any aspect of Nature wake but one thought? Does she ever suggest only one definite thing? Does she make any two men in the same place at the same moment think the same thing? Is she therefore a failure, because she is not definite? Is it nothing that she does rouses the something deeper than understanding -- the power that underlies thoughts? Does she not set feeling, and so thinking at work? Would it be better that she did this after one fashion, and not after many fashions?
"Nature is mood-engendering, thought provoking: such ought the sonata, such ought the fairy tale to be."
The author and artists selected for this post all come from Scotland -- in honor of today's historic referendum on the question of Scottish Independence.
The artists above were part of the great Scottish Arts & Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century: Jessie M. King (1875-1949), John Duncan (1866-1945), Phoebe Traquair (1853-1936), Dorothy Carleton Smyth (1880-1933, sister of fellow-artist Olive Carleton Smyth), Frances MacDonald MacNair (1873-1921, sister of fellow-artist Margaret MacDonald Mackintoch), Annie French (1872-1965), Ann Macbeth (1875-1948), and Katherine Cameron (1874-1965). I recommend the book Glasgow Girls: Women in Art & Design 1880-1920, edited by Jude Burkhauser (Cannongate, 1990).